Achill and Inishmore: Tiny Irish Islands Treated to Hollywood | Travel

Ohen my bus driver in Dublin learns that I am English, he offers me a plastic potato, which makes me laugh out loud as it reflects one of the things I love most about Ireland. That it is a country with such dark humor that they will even joke about the English who starved them during the Great Famine. A country where unbridled bad weather and humor mingle, the second making the first bearable.

There’s plenty of craic in the new movie from the In Brugge director and screenwriter Martin McDonagh, The Banshees of Inisherin, and I’m in Dublin for the premiere before touring the filming locations. Like the 2008 film set in the picturesque Belgian town, the film stars Colin Farrell (as Padraic) and Brendan Gleeson (as Colm). Farrell won a Golden Globe for his performance, while McDonagh, born to Irish parents in London, was adopted as a native. A black comedy about two hitmen in Belgium, the film was adored by Irish audiences for its bitter humour, anarchic love story and jokes about “the most boring city in Europe”, which had for surprising effect of causing an increase in tourism in Bruges.

Now with Banshees McDonagh is set to do the same for the west of Ireland, acknowledging that he captured the rugged coastline with the intention “to have the islands as as important a character as Bruges was for this film. “.

Farrell with Brendan Gleeson in the critically acclaimed film


As you would expect from McDonagh, Banshees is a black comedy, by turns shocking then surprising (like his previous films Three billboards Outflow and In Brugge). Apparently a story about the breakdown of a male friendship, it is also a parable about the madness of conflict in Ireland (it takes place in 1923 during the civil war) and the narcissism of artists.

Banshees plays the role of rural Irish stereotypes: weather-beaten men poop neck in chunky hand-knit sweaters; take Sunday trips to confess before statues of the Virgin Mary; drink Guinness at impromptu pub crawls; joke about homosexual priests and alcoholism. It even opens with a gag involving Padraic worried about Colm not coming to the pub when it’s just 2pm.

The Inisherin Island from the film’s title is fictional. In reality Banshees was filmed between two islands in the west of Ireland which provided him with locations, and were chosen by McDonagh to reflect his two starkly different main characters: Inishmore, an austere landscape of pure limestone slabs personifying the character ” dull” and stable of Padraic and the sea-ravaged Achill reflecting the artistically conflicted Colm.

Such differences may seem subtle, but for me one of the attractions of the West of Ireland is the way it makes you get a closer look at nature. Perhaps because here the impact of the raging Atlantic seems more important. Maybe because not much else is going on.

Inishmore is in some ways the most magical and certainly the most remote place. To get there you have the choice: ferry or plane. To call the 35-minute ferry ride across the ocean wild is an understatement. The short flight isn’t much better; in a table-sized plane where, because you’re sitting by weight, you risk getting run over by the pilot. Farrell stayed in a cottage on Inishmore during filming, enjoying himself with local children taking selfies and with local women while jogging in short shorts. But on this trip, instead of going to Inishmore, I went to see Achill, where most of the filming took place.

Achill is a tidal island on the western tip of Ireland, connected to the mainland by a bridge. It’s a spectacular and popular spot on the Wild Atlantic Way road trip, and in summer the island’s population of 2,500 almost doubles to 4,000 with tourists drawn to its disarming beauty.

Achill is 300km from Dublin, although you can fly into Knock Airport. Achill’s route, through Connemara, winds past navy blue, wind dappled lakes and through steep valleys and low mountains shrouded in dark clouds. My Irish friend joking, Connemara men are known to be tough on the weather-beaten landscape. Like Connemara, Achill is in the Gaeltacht region (Irish speaking) but the islanders mostly speak English.

I arrive on Achill in the pouring rain – another cliché. Living on the West Coast means living on a weather front. The sky is constantly changing. One moment it’s thick with dark clouds, the next the wind blows them back to reveal bright sunshine. One side of the island can be bathed in divine rays; the other, saluting. In one day, I see six rainbows.

Achill Island

Achill Island


Our local guide, Sheila, suggests Achill’s name comes from the Latin word for eagle. The white-tailed eagle was last seen here in 1910, although Sheila tells me she once saw a golden eagle in her garden. On Achill, animals are abundant: foxes, Irish hares, basking sharks, dolphins, otters… and sheep. Grazing on the common land, the sheep are free to roam and they do – you see them riding road signs, wandering through gardens, waddling down the road, chewing on power cables.

I travel on roads that meander for 50 miles along the rugged coastline, making for a sometimes nerve-wracking but spectacular drive. The island’s hilly mountainous interior has various popular trails that attract avid mountain hikers looking for challenging climbs with awesome views and plenty of solitude. Beneath the mountains here they found seams of amethyst and quartz, although my attempts to ask the local guide about the mystical qualities of these semi-precious stones were met with pragmatism. In my experience it is a misconception that the Irish believe in leprechauns or myths, they are practical people. When I ask an Irish friend about the folklore that claims female spirits known as banshees can be heard moaning when a family member is about to die, he laughs saying the sound “probably the sound of foxes that fuck nearby”.

Among the ups and downs of the grounds are scattered modern white cottages. In Banshees, the characters live in the traditional stone houses dreamily associated with Ireland – whitewashed walls, thatched roofs, flagstone floors. But for the most part, the reality is more prosaic. Most of the rural houses you will see in the west of Ireland are modern bungalows. The only romance left to them is in the puffs of smoke from the chimneys, which smell of the grass you can still see being cut from the bogs. Many of them are Airbnbs and vacation rentals that tourists can rent when visiting.

Yet some stereotypes remain true. The statues of “Notre-Dame” are omnipresent. On Achill there is one sitting on top of Minaun, the third highest mountain. Spontaneous trad sessions often break out in pubs, even during the day, and everyone seems to have a song or play an instrument in a way you’d never experience in England. It is impossible to live in a setting like this and not have deep thoughts about culture, nature and religion. Perhaps because in this epic landscape, you feel confronted by your creator and deeply aware of your insignificance – something the film drives.

Interview: Colin Farrell on The Banshees of Inisherin
Read our review ★★★★★ of the film

Visitors here certainly won’t find tourist hotspots as obvious as they might in Bruges – although summer brings cycling tours and a kitesurfing competition to the island. But the appeal of the west of Ireland is both more subtle and deeper. Far from material distractions, some might find the devastating beauty of this land drenched in sea mist as dreary. But for me, it’s moving, it speaks of a savagery, anarchy, a fragility, a beauty and a community that my soul craves.

Katie Glass was a guest on Failte Ireland ( and Tourism Ireland ( The Banshees of Inisherin is in theaters from October 21

Corrymore Lake, West Keel

Corrymore Lake, West Keel


Five of The Banshees of Inisherin filming locations

1. Corrymore Lake, West Keel
Corrymore Lake is the setting for two harrowing scenes in the film and is as beautifully dark seen in person as it is on screen: a gently rippling pool of dark water created during the Ice Age by glaciers flowing through the mountains. Behind the lake, which has become a reservoir that supplies the island with water (villagers used rainwater until the 1980s), is the Croaghaun mountain, the highest on the island. Its cliffs, which give way to a spectacular drop towards the sea, are the highest in the British Isles.

Keem Bay, Dooagh

2. Keem Bay, Dooagh
This cliff-lined sandy beach overlooks Croagh Patrick (the Irish equivalent of Lourdes) and is one of the best places to swim in Ireland. In Banshees, this is the site of Colm’s cottage. The old-fashioned fisherman’s house in the bay got the star treatment in preparation for filming – it was repainted white and a thatched roof was added, but the original interior remained intact. In the 1950s and 1960s fishermen hunted basking sharks here, selling the liver oil to England where it lit up the streets of London, but since hunting was banned the sharks have returned to the area and are often spotted in the water.

Lynott's Pub

3. Clew Bay from Gielty, Dooagh
You won’t find the savage pub on top of a cliff Banshees, which was built temporarily just for the film, but there are two pubs on Achill worth visiting for a Guinness: Gielty’s Clew Bay, on the edge of the village of Dooagh, the most westerly pub in Ireland; and the irresistibly charming Lynott’s, a small early 19th-century pub where locals come to share pints and gossip and where the fire smells of burnt grass.

St. Thomas Church, East Dugort

St. Thomas Church, East Dugort

Mick Reynolds

4. St. Thomas Church, East Dugort
There are six Catholic churches on Achill but McDonagh decided to shoot in the Protestant one, so to Banshees a confessional booth had to be built inside the particular church. It was from here that the Reverend Edward Nangle established his Protestant mission during the famine, attempting to convert local Catholics with food distributions. The church has stunning views across Dugort Beach to the top of Slievemore Mountain and now hosts concerts of traditional Irish music.

5. Port of Purteen, keel
The team behind Banshees traveled all over Ireland, from Donegal to West Cork, to find this picturesque port in which to film. Banshees it becomes the main village of the fictional Inisherin, a hub of local gossip, and the site where the characters arrive and depart on beautiful Galway prostitute boats. In reality, there are few signs of the scenes you see in the film, except for a metal cross sitting offshore.

Comments are closed.